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Sister Michele Aronica and Deacon James J. Knipper to lead Georgian Court University Trustees

Sr. Michele Aronica, RSM, Ph.D. (left) and Dcn. James J. Knipper (right)

Sr. Michele Aronica, RSM, Ph.D. (left) and Dcn. James J. Knipper (right)

Sr. Michele Aronica, a Sister of Mercy and an academic leader, has been appointed the new chair of Georgian Court University’s Board of Trustees. She is joined by the Roman Catholic deacon serving the Diocese of Trenton, James J. Knipper ’15, H’17, as vice-chair of GCU’s governing board.

“Sister Michele and Jim are exceptionally qualified leaders with decades of experience in higher education, management, and religious service,” said GCU President Joseph R. Marbach, Ph.D. “Their demonstrated leadership skills will be pivotal to maintaining the highest standards of governance for our university. They have provided years of dedicated and thoughtful service to Georgian Court University.”


With over three decades of experience as a dedicated professor, non-profit executive, and religious leader, Sr. Michele is well suited to lead Georgian Court’s Board of Trustees.

Sr. Michele Aronica served as a Professor of Sociology at St. Joseph’s College from 1978-2005 and 2011-2021. During her tenure at the college, she chaired the Department of Sociology, Criminal Justice, and Social Work; led the Faculty Senate Executive Committee as President and Vice President; and chaired multiple Senate and institutional committees. As Department Chair, she led the development of new academic programs including hybrid programs in criminal justice and social justice, a concentration in social work, and the Bachelor of Social Work degree.

She has recently been engaged as a consultant for leaders, and leading organizational change within institutions. Most personally to Sr. Michele, she was significantly involved in developing the Northeast community of Sisters of Mercy by merging six separate communities into one.

Sr. Michele has been a member of GCU’s Board of Trustees since 2017, serving on various committees, including Mission Integration, Academic and Student Affairs (most recently as Chair), Governance, and the Executive Committee of the Board. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Mercy Education System of the Americas and the University of Detroit Mercy, where she serves as chair of Academic Affairs and Vice Chair of the Enrollment Management and Student Life Committee.

Sr. Michele obtained her Master of Arts in Sociology from Long Island University and her Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology from Boston College.

Deacon Knipper is currently in his second tenure as a GCU Board of Trustees member and follows his father, Mr.  Joseph P. Knipper, who served as a Trustee from 2002 to 2008. Deacon Jim has served on several Board committees and was co-chair of the Georgian Court golf outing. He is the former CEO of J. Knipper and Company, Inc.

As a current member of the Board of Trustees for GCU and a member of the Finance Council of the Diocese of Trenton, Jim is poised to play a leading role in Georgian Court’s future. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

In 1981, Jim Knipper graduated from the University of Scranton with a degree in Chemistry, and in 1984 he received a Master’s in Business in the Pharmaceutical Industry from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He also earned his Master’s in Theology from Georgian Court in May 2015 and was awarded an honorary degree from the university in May 2018.

When not serving his faith community at St. Paul’s in Princeton, Deacon Knipper is a principal of Clear Faith Publishing LLC.

The Board of Trustees was previously led by chair Sister Julia Upton RSM, Ph.D., and vice-chair Megan Mulcahy Romano. They navigated a historic land deal that took place in March 2022.


Kenneth M. Esser, Jr., Senior Vice President of Behavioral Health CTS and Special Advisor to the CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, has joined the university’s Board of Trustees.

Mr. Esser has served in a senior role with Hackensack Meridian Health since 2018, before which he led the development and implementation of PSE&G’s “utility of the future” strategy as their Manager, Program Growth and Strategy. His multi-decade career also spans the public sector, having served as the Chief Energy Advisor to the Office of the Governor of the State of New Jersey and as a Policy Advisor for Energy and Economic Growth for the NJDEP.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.